By Mayor Pro Tem Kathy Ward
Is at-large voting right and good for San Clemente or should the city be divided into districts with one representative? Which would be better for our community?
There is a group of five residents bringing up this subject. They will be circulating a petition asking you to sign stating you agree with their claims about the current City Council and you want to change our election system. So, what is the difference?
Under San Clemente’s current at-large system, voters everywhere in town can vote for any candidate running for a City Council seat. District elections, however, would divide our city into separate districts, and residents in each area would only be able to vote for whomever runs for their district.
You might say it’s fine to have one local representative from your area because, frankly, there are four other council members you can complain to. But with districts, those four other council members will no longer be your representatives and are beholden to those who elected them.
District elections do more harm than good. They bring political entrenchment and competition. We recently had an issue near Talega that illustrates this point. A city-owned lot on the corner of Vista Hermosa and Avenida Talega was declared surplus property. While the city was going through a required preliminary investigation process, someone posted on social media that the city was planning a homeless shelter on the property site. The residents were not happy.
The lot is an important piece of commercial property with great economic potential. But under district representation, if the City Council were to entertain the idea of a homeless shelter on the site, Talega and The Reserve would only have one representative to vote on that issue. The other four council members could vote for a homeless shelter on that lot, and in doing so would keep the shelter away from their districts and keep their constituents happy.
An example of district representation in action is the Capistrano Unified School District Board of Trustees. San Clemente has only one representative on the school board. Last year, SCHS Principal Mike Halt was fired and despite public outcry, no reported finding of wrongdoing against Halt, the firing of an assistant superintendent and the offering of a job in the district back to Mr. Halt, SCHS could not get Halt reinstated at the high school. Again, the city has only one representative and the rest of the school board are not elected by us and simply do not represent our community.
Those who are circulating the petition in favor of district elections believe that San Clemente residents are disenfranchised by the majority of City Council members living in one section in our city. Their claims are unfounded. Further, it is inconceivable that residents would stand for being ignored or elect council members who are unable to address city issues. This City Council has not focused on spending resources in their own neighborhoods as this petition also claims.
We have real issues that your City Council has taken on that are serious threats to our quality of life and public safety. Some people do not like the rules we all must live by and are interested in harming the city and creating chaos to punish and prevent us from doing the job you elected us to do. This petition is an attempt to do just that. If this group is able to convince enough people that their ‘facts’ are true, then this will be on the ballot and it will be up to the community to decide if it passes or fails.
Districts will divide our town and will not further our city’s progress. We must stay united and resolute and on course. We are dealing with contentious issues that will not get resolved by division.
One team. One town.
I enjoy hearing from you and can be reached at email@example.com.
Mayor Pro-Tem Kathy Ward was elected to City Council in 2014.